GRADY — Two court rulings that had blocked Arkansas’ plan to carry out seven executions this month were reversed Monday, but the state Supreme Court also issued rulings that called into question whether the state would be able to begin the executions Monday as scheduled.
By late Monday night it was still unknown whether an inmate would be executed that night.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on Monday vacated an order issued Saturday by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker that had stayed of all of the state’s planned April executions pending resolution of certain claims by the inmates. The inmates allege that the state’s execution plan would violate their constitutional rights, including their right not to receive cruel and unusual punishment.
The inmates claim the sedative midazolam would not render them unconscious and unable to feel pain before other drugs intended to stop their lungs and heart are administered. State officials disagree and have testified in court that they chose to obtain midazolam because the makers of other sedatives have refused to sell their products for use in executions.
The state is seeking to use its supply of the drug in executions before the supply expires at the end of this month.
Also Monday, the state Supreme Court vacated an temporary restraining order issued Friday by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen that barred the state from using one of its three execution drugs pending resolution of claims by a medical supply company that the state obtained the drug improperly.
On the same day the state received those rulings in its favor, the state Supreme Court issued rulings maintaining a previous stay of the execution of Bruce Earl Ward and imposing a new, separate stay on the executions of Ward and Don Williams Davis.
Ward and Davis had been scheduled to be executed starting at 7 p.m. Monday.
The state’s highest court initially stayed the execution of Bruce Earl Ward in an order issued Friday. On Monday, the court vacated its previous order but replaced it with one that again granted a stay of execution to allow further evaluation of Ward’s competence. Ward’s attorneys say he is severely mentally ill and is not competent to understand the punishment he is to receive.
Friday’s order gave no indication of dissent, but in Monday’s order the court noted that Justices Karen Baker, Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack would not have granted a stay of execution.
Ward, 60, has been sentenced to die for the 1990 strangulation of 18-year-old Little Rock convenience store clerk Rebecca Lynn Doss.
Also Monday, the state Supreme Court issued an order staying the executions of both Ward and Davis in a case in which the inmates’ attorneys have argued that the two men’s executions should be halted until the U.S. Supreme Court reaches a decision in a case involving access to independent mental health experts, which they claim Ward and Davis were denied.
Baker, Wood and Womack also dissented from that ruling.
Davis, 54, has been sentenced to die for the 1990 shooting of 62-year-old Jane Daniel of Rogers during a robbery at her home.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said shortly after 6 p.m. the state was asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the state Supreme Court. He expressed frustration with “the continued delayed justice,” which he said was harmful to the families of the inmates’ victims.
Judd Deere, a spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said Rutledge was asking the nation’s highest court to overrule the state Supreme Court only on the ruling that applied to both Ward and Davis and not on the ruling that applied to Ward alone.
Meanwhile Monday, the inmates’ attorneys were asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the 8th Circuit ruling that vacated Baker’s stay of all of this month’s executions.
At the state Department of Correction’s Cummins Unit near Grady, where the executions were to be carried out, agency spokesman Solomon Graves told reporters about 6 p.m that the staff was continuing with preparations in case the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Davis to be executed.
Hutchinson initially scheduled eight executions between Monday and April 27, with double executions to be conducted on four different nights.
The first inmate whose execution was halted was Jason McGehee, who received a stay from a federal judge in Little Rock on April 6 after the state Parole Board recommended he receive executive clemency.
On Sunday, a federal judge in Fayetteville ruled in the state’s favor and denied a motion for a separate stay of execution for Davis.
Other inmates the state is seeking to execute this month are Stacey Eugene Johnson, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams, Ledell Lee and Jack Harold Jones.
Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005 because of legal challenges and difficulty obtaining execution drugs.